Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman wants Maryland to approve local governments charging a progressive income tax, a previous policy goal he said is needed to help jurisdictions recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pittman, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said recovering from the new coronavirus outbreak will require governments at all levels to ask wealthier residents to contribute more financially. To that end, Pittman wants to raise his county’s income tax cap to 3.2% on residents making at least $500,000.
“As I look at revenues in the county, and in the country, I firmly believe that we’re going to have to go to the winners in this economy and ask for more. There are still people doing well financially, and making a lot of money, and there are a lot of people falling through the cracks,” Pittman said.
Pittman backed a bill during the previous Maryland General Assembly session allowing counties to charge income tax based on residents’ income.
The bill, called the Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act of 2020, passed the House of Delegates. It failed, however, to pass the Senate during the last session, which was truncated by the COVID-19 outbreak. When the General Assembly reconvenes, Pittman said, he intends to push the legislature to pass the bill.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Anne Arundel County projects to lose about $63 million in revenues in fiscal 2021, primarily from loss of income taxes. The resulting budget crunch, he said, means the county will freeze hiring for teachers and police officers. Other plans, such as starting a police body camera program, will also be “paused.”
Last year the county, which is the only one of the state’s eight largest jurisdictions that does not already charge the state-approved income tax maximum, raised that tax from 2.5% to 2.81%. Without the increase, Pittman said, the county would be without an additional $50 million in revenues.
Pittman, who won 52% of the vote in 2018 when he defeated Republican incumbent Steve Schuh, was the first Democrat elected as Anne Arundel County Executive in roughly 12 years. While the county had trended Republican prior to his election, Pittman has pursued an unabashedly liberal agenda since taking officer
Enabled by a one-vote Democratic majority on the Anne Arundel County Council, Pittman’s administration successfully pursued the jurisdiction’s first housing discrimination ordinance, ramped up enforcement of county environmental regulations and clamped down on what he called “reckless development” in the county.
He’s also advocated on regional issues, including pushing the state to invest more in mass transit. Pittman, a former horse trainer, is also credited with helping arrange a meeting between Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Stronach Group CEO Belinda Stronach, which eventually resulted in a deal to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
Pittman on Wednesday said he knows a lot of residents are worried about how government will pay for the actions, such as the recent $2 trillion federal stimulus package, intended to help people and businesses get through the COVID-19 crisis. The answer to that is asking wealthier residents to pay more taxes to help cover the costs, he said.
Implementing a progressive income tax at the county level is part of that, Pittman said, adding that he supports a repeal of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts.
“That’s what we have to be willing to do at every level of government to rebuild after this,” Pittman said.